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Curiosity of the Mundane

Brief Q & A with Artist & Recent Grad Michael Kwan
July 7, 2020


Untitled, 2020

"I’m curious about energy and purpose, about humanity and interpersonal relationships."

The Department of Art is pleased to congratulate Michael Kwan on their recent graduation from the University of Minnesota with a BA in Studio Art and minor in Creative Writing. We took a moment with Michael to explore their path to the University, what's next, and how curiosity is a key driver. 

Q: When you were a kid did you think you'd go to college for art?
When I was really little, I remember thinking I’d be a racecar driver, but when reality started to sink in I expected to go to college for either music or engineering. I grew up playing piano and went to a performing arts high school, so music was the ‘easy’ choice. I felt a bit aimless my freshman year and signed-up for an Intro to Photography course. It wasn’t until I took that first photography class that I saw art as a real option that would eventually win me over. I declared an art major with a creative writing minor sometime my late sophomore or early junior year.

Q: What was your favorite class & why?
I first want to let it be known that I loved most of my art classes, but they come in a close second to a non-fiction class I took this past semester. There was something really special to me about that class, maybe the people or the fact that it was one of my last classes before graduating, but this idea of truth; writing about my own and experiencing others’. That exchange was really precious and valuable to me. There was a mutual vulnerability in that space that felt similar to that of the art classes I’ve taken, but I think the explicitness of language made me feel that much more exposed and seen in a way that sharing my visual work didn’t.

Q: What's your elevator speech? (AKA how do you describe your work to people?)
I am an interdisciplinary photographer informed and influenced by abstract painting and collage. My work focuses on mundane objects, ones that are easily disregarded and overlooked, used to create commentary and encourage dialogue on ambiguous identity and the state of the world we live in.

Q: What are you curious about? 
Too many things! I think my curiosity is what heavily fuels my insomnia. Right now, I think I’m most curious about the future, what that’ll look like tomorrow or 10 years from now and if we’ll even make it that far.

I’m kind of a nerd and I love learning. I tend to get hyper-fixated on a lot of random things, usually tech or science-related, but definitely not limited to that. It’s a bit odd though because I think I’m a pretty spiritual person and that doesn’t necessarily agree well with science. I’m curious about energy and purpose, about humanity and interpersonal relationships. Existence is also something that I can’t and don’t think I’ll ever fully understand. I go back and forth between thinking that there’s a purpose or reason for our existence, or that everything is predetermined and free-will is just an illusion.

My artwork reflects my curiosity in a lot of ways. I tend to focus my work on pretty mundane objects. Most of the time this isn’t something I’m out searching for, they just somehow manage to catch my attention as if they’re the loudest things around me. An example is a series titled Screens. They’re images of reflections in building windows where the recession and reflection of space coexist on a single pane of glass. For me, this series has become a manifestation of my thoughts surrounding my identity. As a queer and Asian-American person, I find myself resonating with the moments occurring in these windows; the duality and the relationship between interior and exterior space and how those spaces become ambiguous as they blend together in a flattened photograph.

Q: What's next on your "to do" list?
I’d like to do some artist residencies around the world once it’s safe again to do so and those opportunities start opening back up. My plan is to do that for a year or two and then I think I’ll start considering whether or not I want to continue onto a master’s program. Another goal of mine is to publish some of my writing.

In the meantime, I've been organizing old work and filtering out anything that seems promising as a starting point for new projects. This process has allowed me to see old work in a new light as I’m reintroduced to the work in a different context. It's been pretty revealing to see how my thoughts surrounding certain images have shifted and to see how these moments age. I’ve also been writing for a music project that a couple of friends and I are working on that’s set to release under the name Cosmic Bingo sometime in the future.

I’d love to see how I can combine these three disciplines I’ve studied—visual art, music, and writing—to form a body of work that stimulates multiple senses. I’ve been thinking about what that kind of project might look and feel like and how it might be achieved. For now, I only have vague ideas, but I’m excited to see where it’ll take me.

Q: Do you have a favorite quote or song/lyric?
"Fertilizer" by Frank Ocean. It’s like a 30-second interlude with one line--“Fertilizer, I’ll take bullshit if that’s all you got.” It seems really lighthearted at first, but there’s a desperation in that line that really gets me, and that dynamic is something I really love. 

Thank you Michael for sharing your time and talents with us!
Explore Michael's Work: + @michaelkwan.tif/